Will healing classes be Left 4 Dead?

November 9, 2010 at 4:40 pm | Posted in General | Leave a comment
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Wotcha everyone,

Every so often, I sit and think about MMOs.  It’s usually whilst I’m holding a sizeable amount of tea in an unfeasibly large mug, and it’s the sort of pondering that sees other, more normal people, sort out The Big Things.  You know, The Big Things That Affect The World.

Of course, being a Geek (First Class), I think about geekish things.  To me, The Big Things That Affect The World are the sort of Cthuloid-scale entities that only exist in online worlds…

Recently, when tea-based pondering occurs, the subject of instanced dungeons keeps popping up.  To me, it’s no surprise, really.  There’s Cataclysm and all its new-and-old instances hiding just behind the horizon.  There’s Fallen Earth, and its perceived lack of “endgame” due to not having instanced dungeons similar to those in World of Warcraft.  There’s even speculation about next year’s offerings, with both Tha Seekrit Wurld and The Old Republic on my radar.

Of course, new games often means new speculation, and with that comes talk using dirty, dirty words like “innovation”, “originality” and “new”.

One of my pet triggers is when someone casually drops the H-Bomb.  Yeah, when a spokesmouth for the game says something along the lines of not needing healers.  How needing a healer makes Baby Buddha cry.  Oh, how my heart leaps at those times.  And the fangs come out, the hackles rise, and the urge to summon Great Things Of Terror (I know, I’m capitalising a lot today.  I hope it’s a fad I’ll pass through rapidly) to go and punish them for their temerity by eating all their biscuits, and weeing on their chips.  I *like* playing healers.

Now, I am getting better.  Part of it is conditioning.  It’s becoming such a commonly used concept in pre-launch hype that I’m getting used to it.

But I’ve also seen one future where there are no healers, and it’s not actually that bad.

I’ve spoken of it previously, and it is Left 4 Dead.  Or, if you’re like me, you’re with the cool kids in Left 4 Dead 2 which I have been lead to believe is the sequel.

Whenever I read that Dalaran is a bit like a lobby area, with players waiting for their instance to start up, I think of Left 4 Dead.  Each Campaign is like a multi-wing dungeon, and each involves 4 players in a journey from A to B, with a number of set-piece events, the gathering of trez, and the killing of lots of mobs and bosses along the way.

The mobs are zombies, the bosses are called Special Infected, the trez is largely guns and ammo, and the set-piece events are often less about defeating a big bad boss, and more about running, screaming and general headless-chickening (if you’re me.  You are probably cooler, and therefore more level-headed than I am).

So the concept is the same.  It’s in the level of detail that things change.

Part of that level of detail is the removal of a healing class.  I’m pretty sure there wasn’t a specific desire to remove the specific healing class from the game, more that there are *no* classes in the game.  Want to be melee?  Pick up and use a melee weapon.  Want to be ranged?  Why, choose from one of the many fine and reliable ranged weapons in the game.

Want to be a healer?  Concentrate on picking people up from the ground, maybe concentrate on keeping those zombies that slip through from munching on your team-mates, and always be ready with a med-kit for when one is needed.

Of course, there’s no helpful aggro mechanic, so whomever wants to be tank will find that they just need to get in the way a lot.  Or they can just realise that Left 4 Dead (or the sequel, indeed) is also a future where *all* roles have been abolished.

Well, all roles apart from that perennial cockroach, the DPS.

Yes, I can make that gag, I’ve played enough damage dealing classes in my time, and I love seeing a big number floating up from a monstie just as much as the next damage-dealing chap.  I’m just being all clever and ironic.  Or something.

Yet despite that loss of role, it’s pots of fun.  Zombies are the in thing, and there’s no surprise there.  After all, there are no zombie rights.  There’s no fear of offending the undead minority, or having to deal with the Right To Shamble lobbying groups.  Add in high-velocity firepower and cooking implements, and you have a winner.  It’s not glorifying violence, because it’s zombies!

Everyone is allowed to pick on zombies.

And even better than that, they can feel good whilst doing it.  The fact that you also get some great action, clever set pieces, and some clever game design means that the game is a lot of fun.

So there it is.  A party based instanced game, with not a single role in sight.  The game-play has been specifically created to enhance the playing experience, to the extent that whilst one might wish for a healer class or role within the game (heal spells on tap would make it *a lot* more easy), it is not required for success; health and healing is a resource that must be managed more overtly than it is in most MMOs.

Would an MMO without roles ever be created?  Will one survive?

There have been plenty of classless MMOs.  Star Wars Galaxies was one; skill-based, not class based.  But that still left people gravitating towards the role they preferred to play.  It just meant they could pick and choose exactly how much of a role they wanted to perform, within the framework of the game.  One could also say that the roles were still a required part of the PvE game.

Would a role-less game mean freedom?  Would it mean that all players would have the choice to do whatever they want, however they want?

Or would it mean that everyone was free to be just the same as everyone else?  That every single player is free to be *exactly* the same as everyone else; part of one homogenously bland whole?

I suppose that until someone makes a widely received MMO that is genuinely role-less, I’ll be drinking a lot of tea whilst attempting to fathom out whether such a game would be one I’d enjoy as an MMO, rather than a fun romp for a couple of hours every week or so.

I also suppose that with compelling and engrossing game-play, any sort of game is one that is both good, and fun.

Of course, the ability to gauge what is compelling and engrossing is most probably the most important skill of a games designer.



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